Saturday, July 01, 2006

Excellent Article for the Hypnotherapist

Poetry as Hypnosis:
An Ericksonian Approach to "Song of the Open Road"
By James Whitlark, Ph.D., and Lynn Whitlark

Although hypnosis is nominally recognized as both art and science, books on it regularly begin with Mesmer (i.e., its history as science). They content themselves with only the vaguest references to its history as art (e.g., as practiced by ancient Celtic poets). The only extended analysis of poetry as hypnosis has been Edward D. Snyder, Hypnotic Poetry: A Study of Trance-Inducing Technique in Certain Poems and it's Literary Significance, originally published in 1930 and thus radically out of date. A reason for recovering the artistic history of hypnosis is that it provides extensive models for induction techniques. One area where this is particularly needed is in NLP ventures to extend Ericksonian patterns into writings that both sound literate and communicate with the unconscious of the readers. Doing the two together is sufficiently difficult so that time-honored models should be welcome.

The following article has the modest purpose of beginning this process by calling attention to similarities between Ericksonian hypnosis and Whitman's poetry. Before Milton Erickson, hypnosis tended to be more authoritarian and stylized in its conspicuous, repetitive patter. In the history of poetry, a comparable figure was Walt Whitman, who broke from the stylized, regularly repetitive, fixed verse forms that had previously dominated poetry.

What was Whitmarn's purpose in this break? As he writes in an 1891 version of the poem "Spontaneous Me," his aim is:

To have the feeling to-day or any day I am sufficient as I am.
O something unprov'd! something in a trance!
To escape utterly from others' anchors and holds!

Whitman's metaphoric use of "anchors" (as holds on the mind) here partly anticipates the NLP sense of it. His fragmentary syntax displays various tricks later in the Milton Model, including Whitman's way of embedding the affirmation "I am sufficient as I am." By such techniques, he is moving the readers away from consciousness, which has to "prove" everything and into "trance," which accepts on faith or knows intuitively. Like Erickson, Whitman's ultimate purpose is to interrupt the audience's previous conditioning and thereby liberate them.

To demonstrate an Ericksonian analysis of poetry, we have chosen Whitman's "Song of the Open Road," because it well exemplifies this simultaneous opening of poetry and the mind by way of hypnotic techniques that have previously escaped notice. For instance, because of the limited awareness of hypnotic devices when Snyder was writing, that critic contends, "Whitman's best poems, despite their general neglect of some obvious hypnotic stimuli, contain, nevertheless, passages of peculiar interest to this study" ([italics mine] l. 82). Actually, not merely when he resembles pre-Ericksonian hypnotic patter of the sort Snyder knew, but pervasively, Whitman relies on hypnotic techniques.

Pacing Current Experience
Although Snyder does not mention it, already in the old hypnosis (and continued in Erickson's), the practitioner commonly would describe the subject's on-going experience, e.g., "You are sitting here in this rather soft chair listening to the sound of my voice…." Because the patient finds this true, s/he is more likely to accept the hypnotist's next remarks, which begin to lead rather than merely describe the patient's consciousness. Furthermore, in the whole process, the patient can only evaluate the truth of the remarks by introspecting, an activity that moves him or her inward to a slightly more withdrawn, dreamlike state.

Whitman is sometimes almost as blatant as this in his pacing of current experience. For instance, in the short poem "I Sit and Look Out," he begins "I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame…." The reader is likely to be in the same position, sitting, while thinking the sorrowful images that Whitman provides. Thus, Whitman establishes a bond or even a subconscious merger between them. His use of "I" (instead of "you)," anticipates Erickson's sometimes pretending to talk about himself or others as a less intrusive way of reflecting the patient's experiences.

"Song of the Open Road" constitutes a more advanced example of this. The trip where the readers join Whitman is in the free verse itself. He is willing to leave at any time the "public road," i.e., all routines, including the "ruts" of well-worn metrics-ruts he jumps incessantly, thereby creating his strident/striding rhythms. His "Song of the Open Road" celebrates this polyrhythmic voice in terms of a complex metaphor - Whitman's way of life, his poetry, and the poem itself as an asymmetric journey through and beyond "You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides." Although, as he later notes, this journey is larger than the individual poem, the irregularity of that poem is giving his readers an experience of one part of it. In its rhythm, the very line "You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides" is an iamb (or, since the meter is so very irregular, possibly a spondee) is a microcosm of the irregularity that pervades the poem and most of Whitman's oeuvre - the "roughness" to which he repeatedly refers in "Song of the Open Road," e.g., "I will toss the new gladness and roughness among them" and "I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes".

Being self-descriptive, this poem has self-similarity on various scales, like a fractal. What, though, is the function of this? Although popular at present, discussions of poetic self-reflexivity tend to sound as if self-referential poets were so locked in introspection that they had little to say about anything beyond their own art or - ultimately - themselves. Actually though, Whitman's personae as American or Everyman are used to increase reader identification in the manner of Ericksonian hypnosis. In "Song of the Open Road," Whitman calls his persona the "voice" of that road - a voice that forms the medium where the readers and he share a road. This harmonizing with subjects is an essential part of hypnosis, for without it, they would simply leave. What would drive them away is that the rest of Ericksonian hypnosis consists of the following patterns of disorientation (to prepare for suggestions that would not be accepted unless normal habits of thought were unsettled). Among the most pervasive of these are ambiguities.

In his Seven Types of Ambiguity, William Empson classifies ambiguities ranging from "a detail [that] is effective in several ways at once" to contradictions within the author's mind. He understands these as means to "beauty" through the resolutions of tensions into unity. This is certainly the aesthetic aspect of ambiguity, but ambiguity is also an agent of confusion, which Erickson used to induce trance and encode suggestions within it. Since ambiguity is such a familiar topic in poetic analysis (e.g., William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity), consider merely the first few lines of "Song of the Open Road."

AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune - I myself am good fortune….

The phrase "Healthy, free" may apply to the road, to "I" or "the world" (which obviously includes the readers). It thus relates all these together in a way that Ericksonian therapy would (to suggest that, like the speaker, patients can become healthy and freely in control of their lives if they follow the path into which the therapists is leading them). The clause "I ask not good-fortune" may mean either that he asks not for good fortune or that he does not ask something from a personified good fortune. The latter possibility prepares for good fortune to be a person - himself, as he posits after the dash. Identifying himself as their goal is a gesture to bind readers to him - a necessary part of hypnotic induction. Since the readers are to identify with him, they are being told that they too may be their own fortune-a notion that moves them toward the self-reliance and freedom that is Whitman's ideal (as well as that of effective therapy).

Multiple Negations
The "not" in "I ask not good-fortune" is itself a device of disorientation, both because of the odd word order and because it occurs among so many negations. Even if multiple negations are not syntactically ambiguous, they tend to daze readers. Particularly read aloud (as Whitman's poetry ought to be), they may exceed the powers of many hearers' attention. In its 231 lines, "Song of the Open Road" employs "not" forty times, "no" fourteen times, "never" four times, "nothing" twice, and "none" four times. Making their occurrence periodically very dense, they come in clusters, e.g., "Wisdom is not finally tested in schools; Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it, to another not having it; Wisdom is of the Soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof". He is fond of negating verbs of negation, e.g., "not denied" or "none can be interdicted" or "cannot be countermanded" or "not detain'd!". The net effect of these frequent negations is more than confusion; it is also fusion:

Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys;
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you-however long, but it stretches and waits for you;
To see no being, not God's or any, but you also go thither,
To see no possession but you may possess it-enjoying all without labor or purchase-abstracting the feast, yet not
abstracting one particle of it .

In the ambiguity of the syntax all and nothing merge, as the load of negations strip away all details ("no being…no possession") and convey a vague plenitude. Readers are in the midst of what lies below those surface details-the secret, repressed unconscious, which offers much potential but becomes dejected if left unexpressed:

Behold a secret silent loathing and despair.
No husband, no wife, no friend, trusted to hear the confession;
Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,
Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities, polite and bland in the parlors...

Again and again, he evokes images only to cancel them, so that they linger in the memory as specters of what remains entirely potential : "Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf!/Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!". This stylistic device-this positing and canceling removes the images from the logical, conscious meaning of the discourse and consigns them to unconscious processes, which are thus elicited and entered.

Universal Quantifiers and Nominalizations
A very similar effect to multiple negation comes from universals, e.g., "every part," "the kernel of every object", "every day … continually" , "every one" , "everywhere"  and from Whitman's nominalizations, e.g., "fortune" , "Freedom", "realization", "adhesiveness", "Nature". The more abstract discourse becomes, the more likely that people can imagine they are agreeing about it. Admittedly, each reader brings private denotations and connotations to Whitman's universals and nominalizations but this simply makes more probable that they will find his words agreeable (because they are seeing their own meanings in them).

In contrast, Whitman's repetitive lists of non-universal details are the least entrancing portions of his poem (though they do not completely break state). They are only specific and disturbing enough to weaken trance, which abstractions and other disorienting techniques then restore. Their repetitions keep the reader from coming completely out of it, as does their listing partly abstract types, e.g., "the felon, the diseas'd, the illiterate person... As previously mentioned, decreasing trance and then reinstating it is a stylistic device of Ericksonian therapy, meant to deepen hypnosis. For instance, once the reader is reassured that, despite the negative connotations of the above list, Whitman does accept all these types-indeed, everyone-the poem has reinforced its all-inclusive abstractness.

Readjusting Sensory Systems
The essence of Ericksonian therapy is to teach patients to replace traumatic with supportive anchors-an activity that requires a readjustment of their habitual ways of processing sensory images. Comparably, Whitman deranges the senses. For instance, he writes "…the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the excellence of things;/Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the Soul.." Sight is rendered not fixed but floating to reveal the unchanging depths. For a more complex example, consider, "Why are there trees I never walk under, but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?" The pairing "large and melodious" makes parallel syntactically size (usually sensed visually) and sound (sensed auditorily). This synaesthesia is complicated further through the ambiguity of whether he always or never undergoes the kinesthetic experience of walking under the trees in order to think thus. Like Erickson's deliberately making symptoms worse preparatory to ameliorating them, Whitman renders sense and sensation vertiginous in order to help readers find the stable depths, the "kernels" of things, as he calls these.

Selectional Restriction Violation
On the foundation of its pacing current experience as well as on that of its creating an all-embracing vagueness and readjusting sensory systems, the poem can suspend wariness so effectively that the readers are willing to react with almost childlike trust. Consequently, they accept primitive even animistic thought patterns. The aforementioned line "You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides," for example, is but a small part of Whitman's long conversation with the road, i.e., a selectional restriction violation.

Because personification is further from businesslike consciousness than the previous devices, Whitman introduces it gradually. In the third line, for example, "The long brown path [is] before me, leading wherever I choose." Although the road's "leading" involves a personification, it is such a conventional one that it is very inconspicuous.
The second section of the poem starts with a clear-cut apostrophe to the path: "You road I enter upon and look around! I believe you are not all that is here;/ I believe that much unseen is also here." So large a departure from normal conscious as an apostrophe is appropriate to this suggestion that readers move beyond the conscious contents of the path to the "unseen," unconscious ones. His subsequent examples ("the felon, the diseas'd, the illiterate person") are not what cannot be seen but what society often avoids seeing, i.e., the repressed.

Claiming Clairvoyance and Embedding Presuppositions
Although Whitman sometimes uses personifications as a mask for delivering suggestions, he has other means including claims of clairvoyance and the embedding of presuppositions: "I know they [the constellations] are very well where they are;/I know they suffice for those who belong to them" . Instead of saying that he has heard or imagined these stellar situations, he alleges that he knows them. Thus, he implies that he has clairvoyant knowledge of how much of the universe functions. How detailed is this knowledge? His reference to "those who belong to them" presupposes that there are such beings. Moreover, the verb "suffice" implies that "those" are living beings (since it is seldom employed for inanimate objects). He would thus have magical knowledge about the health and welfare of otherwise unknown species. Although somewhat buried in a commonplace, these are large claims. If the readers accept them, they then have a relationship to him like a young child who takes for granted that parents simply know what they say they know and need not be questioned how they learned it. If the readers are willing to play at this, they thereby enter a childlike state of mind.

Paradoxically, Whitman deepens it by interspersing references to what he does not know-a charming modesty designed to endear him to readers so that they will be more willing to grant the large assertions that accompany his admissions of ignorance. For example, "They [souls] go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go;/But I know that they go toward the best-toward something great" . His denial of discerning where they go also has the effect of pushing aside the most controversial part of the matter: salvation and damnation. Instead, he vaguely sends them "toward the best." "[B]est," for whom? For God? For them? For us? We are not told.

At that abstract level, both this section and the previous one imply that all is well and progressing. They function on the same nebulous plane as the hypnotic dictum, "every day in every way, everything is getting better and better." That was a product of the openly repetitive old hypnosis, but its use of "every" (like all the cosmic generalizations of Whitman) anticipates Erickson's very conscious and skillful reliance on abstraction in hypnosis.

Perhaps sensing the net effect of all his generalizations and distortions, Whitman near the end of the poem feels so confident as to assert, "I know all" . This, of course, contradicts his previous modesty, but he is famous for the words, "Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/ (I am large, I contain multitudes). (Leaves of Grass, 48). One of the ways that readers can accept such contradictions is if trance has proceeded to considerable depth. This does not mean that they have simply become mindless but that that they are proceeding in terms of an unconscious logic such that double binds and other paradoxes can be resolved in very healthful manners.

Perhaps the most extreme disorientation comes from paradoxes. For instance,"The long brown path [is] before me, leading wherever I choose."  Whitman's is led, yet chooses. This paradox is, of course, parallel to that of the readers' being led by Whitman's commands, yet brought into freedom-or the paradox of therapy that follows a similar course. Consciously, it can be resolved by thinking of the leading as an initial stage, the choosing as an advanced one (e.g., the progress from child to adult). The truth, however, is that we are always being led, as well as always choosing. The relationship of the two is so complex that, in being brought to consciousness, one or the other seems to dominate. The unconscious, though, is aware of their entire constellation of interactions.

Whitman makes this kind of complex, mutual dependence explicit in the lines:
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens;
I carry them, men and women-I carry them with me wherever I go;
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them;
I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.) 

Beginning with the oxymoron (self-contradictory phrase) "delicious burdens," this ambiguously enmeshes "men and women" with the burdens, either as their contents or his addressee. In lines 11-14, the burdens may be people, the relationship of the genders, or practically anything else, since his preceding remarks are about knowing that the constellations are in their proper place. At any rate, he both fills and is filled by this pleasant yet burdensome something. Almost empty of clear meaning, lines 11-14 form a pattern into which the readers can place their own ambivalences. These lines can serve as generic expression of any situation where mental contents shape the thinkers yet are shaped by them in a feedback cycle.

Such complexity - associated by Whitman with the outdoors and nature - is presented as larger than logic and theology: "Now I re-examine philosophies and religions, They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents". In this larger context, he notes the necessity of change and adaptation: "Now understand me well - it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary". His related paradoxes - that opposites are implicated in one another and that everything contains within itself its opposite - tend to undermine ordinary assumptions about each entity as a separate individual (i.e., undivided essence).

From his undermining of separateness comes recognition of "adhesiveness" - a feeling he wishes to promote. From internal contradiction comes acceptance of the unconscious, where contradictions co-exist. Both these insights are central to hypnosis: the "adhesiveness" of rapport, the unconscious that is foregrounded during trance. Consequently, his bardic/hypnotic method is absolutely congruent with his message of "adehesiveness" and paradoxical wisdom.

Hidden Suggestions (particularly in Quotations and Questions)
That message is delivered in a series of suggestions or commands. Commands, however, are structures people are particularly prone to find offensive - especially in a democracy - a political condition Whitman accepted wholeheartedly. In particular, there is a limit to the sheer number of times a reader can be commanded without becoming annoyed. Consequently, in addition to such open imperatives as "Listen!," or "Be not discouraged - keep on - there are divine things, well envelop'd…," Whitman mutes many of his commands, e.g., "Alons," an imperative, but in French. Also slightly cloaked are the lines, "You shall not heap up what is call'd riches, You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve…" . These hover between future tense and imperative (as do his 13 other uses of "shall"). Comparably, "we must not stop here!"  gives an order without being an imperative per se (as do his six other employments of this modal).

Milton Erickson was particularly expert at disguising his commands. Usually, he buried them in non-imperative syntax. His trick was to pronounce each sentence with a command buried in it, not as the surface structure of the sentence required, but as if the embedded group of words was a separate command. He would speak them more emphatically and drop the pitch of his voice at the end. Whereas, for instance, questions are expected to end with a rise in pitch he would frequently lower his pitch at the conclusion; thus, he pronounced them as orders for the unconscious mind. His experience was that this had a subliminal effect on patients.

Although the printed word does not offer precisely this option, the poet's mastery of rhythm and sound can incline the reader toward such a delivery. Consider, for instance, "Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?"  These are, at the very least, rhetorical questions, expecting the answer "yes." As rhetorical questions, they are already disguised commands, in that they expect agreement and adherence, despite politely asking for it. In these examples, however, Whitman comes even closer to the imperative than this in that the first two words of each question are unaccented, so that the accent emphatically falls on the verb, setting it off like a command.

Previously, in an even more elaborate wrapping, Whitman expressed this desire that the readers and he "stick with each other": "Do you say, I am already prepared - I am well - beaten and undenied - adhere to me?"  Here, "adhere to me" is undeniably imperative, yet it wears more than one disguise. First, it ends in a question mark, which confuses the eye into thinking it an inquiry. Second it is a quotation of the supposed words of the road. Erickson found that embedding commands within ostensible quotation was a technique that delivered instructions effectively, yet kept the patients from thinking him blatantly authoritarian. Thus, Whitman here masks his demand that we adhere to him behind the persona of the road-a road that is ultimately his road, his paradoxical path for leading us into freedom. Nonetheless, he is pretending to disagree with it, in that he is saying that he will sometimes step beyond it, but, since it is the road to freedom, such transcendence is, in another sense, an adhering to it.

Ranging from the clearest imperative to these less evident examples, Whitman weaves orders into most of the poem's sentences. Rather than employing the indicative to describe an experience, he is leading the readers into one. It is through suggestion rather than logic that he convinces: "I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes; We convince by our presence. Listen! I will be honest with you…." Superficially considered, he may seem to be saying that, having been a wanderer, his body has shown its health by surviving the open road. Even if we accept this doubtful contention, it hardly will "convince" that he has been "honest" and knowledgeable about "divine things." (Do we trust vagabonds immediately as ministers?) But as he maintains, instead of employing "arguments," he relies on his "presence."

How, though, is he present in his poetry? Having abandoned "arguments, similes, and rhymes" (intrusive devices), he has fashioned the rhythms and sounds of his verse into evocation of a living voice - the voice to which we are to "Listen!". It is "the cheerful voice of the open road" - a voice that persuades not through the conscious means of logic but through an unintrusive induction comparable to Erickson's.

Inevitably, such induction will not be equally effective on everyone. Erickson had to fit his techniques to each patient, by calibrating their response to it and engaging in much trial and error. Sometimes he had to mutter for hours before the patient's slight change in breathing or some other physiological sign showed Erickson that he had succeeded. With equal persistence in "Song of the Open Road," Whitman is trying to suggest his lesson over and over, each time accompanied by a different arrangement of inductive devices. To succeed, he must establish rapport. In his day, his verse at first seemed abrasively rough and untraditional. Because of a revolution of tastes to which his work significantly contributed, he now seems the opposite. Nonetheless, in the Ericksonian tradition, a hypnotist will sometimes say to a patient, "Just pretend that you are under hypnosis." And the pretence will induce that state - not an old-style hypnosis with the victim a Mesmeric slave but with subject self-hypnotized and ultimately in control. We are suggesting - and you certainly do not have to accept the suggestion - that you pretend to let Whitman's suggestions permeate your consciousness. You might find the experience worthwhile.

Posted by Gina Fox at 11:15:51 AM in Category 1 (24) | Comments (0)


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